monkey loves tiger[1]It was never the Triune God’s intention to snatch his elect away from the world of space-time prior to an escalation of violence upon the wicked that would then culminate in total cosmic desolation. This, as is increasingly being recognized, is a tragic misreading of several passages (not least, 1 Thessalonians 4:17) filtered through a dualistic[1] worldview which drives an unnecessary wedge between the material world of space-time and spiritual or metaphysical realities such as “heaven.” Softer forms of this can be detected where Christians speak of “going to heaven when they die” (without the caveat that they will eventually return at the resurrection).
There are, of course, many ways to go about challenging this persistent cosmological dualism so prevalent in the church. Near the top of the list would be better interpretation of the passages in question through an improved understanding of genre, context, and the world of intertextual images that would be conjured with the use of certain phrases that when taken from their proper conceptual framework, give rise to doctrines like the “rapture.”
However, as I see it, the best way to challenge the church’s dualistic view of the world is to be found in the incarnation, the moment, when, God in the Person of the Son would join himself to creation by taking on human flesh. God doesn’t affirm the goodness and his desire to reconcile creation by impersonal fiat, but comes himself and grounds his affirmation of the material world by becoming a material Person. You see, this is why the incarnation can itself be viewed as an at-one-ment, because in Christ’s own person is the reconciling of the divine and created order.
This, you see, was never about us as disembodied spirits “going to” God so much as it was, and is, about the ‘coming of’” God to join himself forever with humanity in the incarnation and the resurrection. And because Jesus is the universal Lord of all creation on the one hand, and the last-Adam (the one who fulfills Adam’s original purpose as priest over creation) on the other, salvation is nothing short of cosmic in scope. The incarnation, then, would include the animals as those who are a part of the created order. T.F. Torrance sums it up well:
The range of Christ’s mighty acts in the incarnation, reconciliation and resurrection apply to the whole universe of things, visible and invisible. The whole of creation falls within the range of the mighty acts and Lordship as he works his purpose by bringing redemption together with creation, and actualizing the holy will of the Father in everything.[2]
Everything. And just as salvation is not primarily legal in character without personal and relational transformation in one’s actions (namely, love), so our redemption is to permeate our treatment of those animals that God has given us to care for. Christ has died for the animals in our homes; the animals that give us milk and eggs and ultimately their lives for our meat; and the animals on land, in the air, and in the ocean. Thus, our treatment of these animals should both respect the fact of the incarnation (that God will not be without his created order, animals included) and reflect the cross where God shows all of us that He loves us more than he loves Himself.

[1] In this case, a worldview that affirms spiritual realties and depreciates material realities. This goes back ultimately to the Greeks, especially Plato, and was not the creation affirming monotheism of the ancient Jews or Christians.
[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), pg. 311.